For the first time since April, the Boston Celtics played a meaningless meaningful basketball game (meaningless in that it was against an opponent that doesn't figure to be in the title hunt, but meaningful in that the game counted, unlike preseason). And coming off the high of the opener against Miami the night before, this loss to the Cavs was a reminder of how frustrated a regular season basketball game can make yours truly.
In truth, I shouldn't be surprised, and I wasn't really. Coming off an intense game the night before, in Cleveland against a Cavaliers team eager to prove itself without LeBron James, it stands to reason that the Celtics might have a little bit of a letdown. And I expect us to struggle with back-to-backs early in the season, as everyone -- but particularly Jermaine O'Neal and Shaquille O'Neal -- finds his sea legs.
Still, this was frustrating. We had an 11-point lead in the third quarter, but were outscored 27-14 in the fourth.
- Glen Davis and Marquis Daniels both played well off the bench for the second consecutive night. It is going to take some getting used to, but those guys seem to be becoming legitimate offensive options, guys you can isolate or throw it to in the post.
- Rajon Rondo had another superb game. Against Miami, he was primarily a distributor, racking up 17 assists. Against Cleveland, he still set the table with nine assists, but he looked for his own offense more, particularly early, and finished with 18 points.
- Kevin Garnett still looks healthy, though it's not showing up in his stat line. The one thing you can point to as a negative from KG are his turnovers; he had seven against the Heat and another three against the Cavs. Quite a few of those have been travels or plays where his brain doesn't seem to be moving at the same speed his body is. It's interesting, because last year, the thing about KG was that he had to learn how to play with the bad knee. Now, it seems like he has to re-learn how to play unhurt. He'll be fine.
- On one play in the third quarter, Rondo led the break and pitched it to KG trailing. Garnett was running at full speed and caught the ball in stride at the foul line. Aware of the defense sliding over and clogging his lane to the bucket, KG hit Rondo, who had continued to the rim, with a perfect give-and-go pass for an easy layup. Every other power forward in the history of the game goes to the rim in that spot and either travels, throws up a wild shot, or commits a charge -- and the point guard gets criticized for setting up his big man for failure. KG is a treasure.
- Boston commits its share of fouls, but one thing that has been key to their defensive success over the past three seasons is allowing the opposition to take difficult, contested shots. At least once tonight, Shaq committed a needless foul that bailed out the opposition. We know he's a liability defending the pick and roll, but he needs to realize that he's so massive that he can disrupt a shot without blocking it. The play I'm thinking of was when Anthony Parker came off a screen and drove across the lane to the basket. Shaq was right there, and Parker would have had to take a very difficult running shot over O'Neal. But Shaq bailed him out with the foul.
- Nate Robinson still looks like he's pressing a little bit. I noticed it mostly in the second quarter. I think a big part of why we're seeing Rondo play more with the second team (as opposed to Ray Allen or Paul Pierce) is to try to get Nate comfortable, at least until Delonte West comes back. Robinson was paired with Von Wafer in the second quarter, but made a positive contribution when sharing the backcourt with Rondo.
- Our end of quarter offense is still terrible. Against Miami, I think we had two bad possessions and one good one. Against Cleveland, we just had two bad ones. At the end of the first quarter, Rondo dribbled in place at the top of the key as the clock wound down, juking himself more than any Cleveland defender, trying to get a good rhythm to step into a jumper (which isn't his shot anyway). At the last second, he thought better of it and threw a shot pass to Davis, who actually drilled a three-pointer. Glen Davis from 23 feet is not what we want in that situation, first of all, and second of all, Rondo wasted so much time that after reviewing the play during the commercial break, the officials determined the shot had come after the horn and took the points off the board. At the end of the third quarter, Nate more or less walked the ball upcourt despite there being only four or so seconds left in the period. The only shot he could muster was a long, awkward three-pointer. We need to find something better at the end of periods, and our guys need to be more aware of the clock.
- We became, as we are wont to do, needlessly obsessed with the three-pointer late in the fourth quarter. Down 89-84 with 2:17 remaining, our next possession revolved around finding Ray Allen for a three-pointer, which he missed. After a stop on the other end, Boston was lucky that a loose ball found Davis, and Baby laid it just as the shot clock buzzer went off. Garnett rebounded a Parker miss with 1:04 remaining, and on the resulting possession, Allen missed another three. Boston got yet another stop, and this time Pierce missed a 15-foot jumper, after which Cleveland put the game away at the free throw line. This happens a lot; we get enough stops to come back and win games down the stretch, but we don't execute offensively and end up taking low percentage shots. Going for three too early is a lot like going for two too early in football; if you fail, you force yourself into going for it again.
- The game was on NBA League Pass, and the feed was of the Cleveland broadcast. It was interesting, though perhaps not that surprising, to hear little mention of James -- who would obviously been the major storyline had the game been covered by a national, unbiased broadcast team. The franchise really seems to be rallying around James' departure; the team's slogan this year, judging by its intro video, is "All for One, One for All." Not a bad start.
- J.J. Hickson, Cleveland's young power forward, reminds me a bit of Garnett. He moves well and has a great stroke. He's several inches shorter than Garnett and therefore can't hit turnaround jumpers with quite as large a degree of difficulty as KG can, but he seems ready to become a real solid player. He also has some of KG's little tricks, like jumping the point guard after a made basket to slow the opposition down.
- Ramon Sessions, who started tonight in place of the injured Mo Williams, had 14 points, but he also had four turnovers and took a game-high 16 shots. The fourth-year guard out of Nevada really came onto everyone's radar screen at the end of his rookie season with the Bucks, when he closed the campaign with five consecutive double-digit assist games, including an incredible 24 dimes in a 151-135 loss to the Bulls. But he really hasn't lived up to that potential. I have it out for Sessions a little bit, because he backed up Jonny Flynn in Minnesota last year, and as Flynn struggled to learn a system that didn't fit him or his teammates particularly well, many were calling for Sessions to get more minutes. But Sessions' decision-making wasn't any better then than it was tonight against the Celtics. He goes up in the air too much without a plan, and plays very out of control. His turnover rate would be higher, but he often just flips the ball at the basket when he finds himself in trouble. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but he gets himself into that spot too often. I'm beginning to doubt he'll ever be more than a streaky role player.
Back at it on Friday against the Knicks. The free preview of League Pass will still be running then, so check your local cable schedule for the channel.